11 November 2015
ALAN JONES: There are ways of raising revenue relatively painlessly. Malcolm Turnbull said 10 days ago his mind was open to the possibility of a nuclear fuel industry and a waste storage facility in South Australia. This is serious stuff. Now there’s a Royal Commission in South Australia into nuclear energy and you’d hardly know it. I’ll come to that in a moment, but as part of that the Royal Commissioner; a former South Australian Governor Kevin Scarce, S C A R C E, is examining the potential for a nuclear fuel and waste storage industry in South Australia. Now you might recall the Howard Government wanted to store spent nuclear fuel rods in South Australia but was forced to drop its proposal following protests from the anti-nuclear lobby. Bob Hawke advocated this many, many years ago. Now Federal Government nett debt reached $400bn recently, but countries are prepared to pay $1m a ton to send 240,000 tons of spent uranium, currently looking for a home, to offshore storage facilities. That’s $240bn. More than half the gross debt wiped out in a handshake and there are other benefits due to new reactors which can extract energy from stored fuel rods and convert it into cheap electricity. Josh Frydenberg has said, the Energy Minister, by Christmas he’ll publish a shortlist of seven possible sites where a nuclear waste dump facility could be built. I think this is very sensible and essential stuff. Thank god for a bloke you’ve never heard of in the Federal Parliament, Senator Sean Edwards, a Liberal Senator from South Australia. He’s made a submission to the Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel industry. He’s arguing that South Australia should stake its claim in the global nuclear fuel recycling industry and he made the point that there are already 240,000 tons of spent uranium looking for a home but there are about 50 countries willing to pay handsomely to the state that provides the home. We’re not out there on our own, there’s a bit of competition and he says it’s not about building a permanent repository; it’s about employing the latest recycling technology to turn used fuel into a far more manageable commodity for disposal by dramatically reducing its half-life and volume while producing baseload electricity. Now this may be difficult for some of us to get our heads around but basically, to use pub talk, we’re talking about a nuclear fuel and waste storage industry in South Australia, $1m a ton, 240,000 tons of spent uranium looking for a home and we’re looking at a by-product: cheap and abundant electricity. Senator Sean Edwards is on the line. Sean Edwards, good morning.
SENATOR EDWARDS: Good Morning Alan, great to be with you.
JONES: Thank you so much, great to hear you and what you’ve had to say. You’ve argued for this nuclear waste processing facility in South Australia, you’ve said that importing used nuclear fuel rods from other parts of the world and reprocessing them could produce enough low cost electricity to reinvigorate South Australia as a manufacturing and industrial centre and you’ve said that countries would pay up to $1m a ton to send used fuel rods to South Australia for storage. What’s causing the problem?
EDWARDS: Well, I’m very heartened to see the Royal Commission embracing these issues and it’s a very rare political moment where we might have some bipartisanship, Alan, maybe on this issue. First time in our political history, which is why I’m advocating what I believe is one of the most compelling reform cases, not only for South Australia but for everybody on the national grid. So that’s why I’m going so hard on this issue.
JONES: That’s right. So on the one hand, there’s $240bn up for grabs, so to speak, if someone can find a home for it but we’re not on our own, there are 50 countries out there competing with us, aren’t there?
EDWARDS: Well this technology will be developed for Generation IV PRISM reactors and we could have a first mover advantage in this demonstrably safe science, one which produces zero carbon emission energy, it addresses a lot of the political issues that we’re facing. It certainly addresses the Greens political party’s issues of generating energy without any kind of emissions at all, and it’s a jobs factory.
JONES: Absolutely. You say we can end up with zero or low cost power. I mean, basically, if we bury, we could have someone sending us electricity for nothing.
EDWARDS: Yeah, well the beauty of this model is that we can take our medical waste, the problem the government’s got now and that’s the problem every government-
JONES:-That’s Lucas Heights…
EDWARDS: has to deal with. So why embrace the whole nuclear issue unless you embrace the massive economic benefit that can be, excuse the pun, generated from it because there is literally billions and our model talks conservatively at $1m a tonne, but the current market price of taking custody of this spent fuel is actually $1.5m a tonne so we’re being very conservative in this phase and we can get a first mover advantage and Lordy, Lordy South Australia needs something.
JONES: Quite. And basically, to keep it simple, you’ve got the latest recycling technology. You can turn these used fuel rods into baseload electricity so you’ve got free power and massive revenue. The point you’ve made, and I think it was in the address you made in Sydney, is that you could completely replace the $4.4bn in state taxes, cause you’re a Senator for South Australia, that your constituents in South Australia pay to the government every year. Completely replace them.
EDWARDS: You could. There’s no reason why the revenues you’ve generated by taking custody of these spent fuel rods, couldn’t supplant state taxes of in excess of $4.4bn and rising.
JONES: Now in a speech, Kevin Scarce is going to present his final report. Because this is the other thing, Sean, there hasn’t been a lot of publicity about this in South Australia. He’s having public hearings about all of this in Mt Gambier, Pt Augusta and Berri and so on and in the indigenous lands to South Australia’s north, but Kevin Scarce is going to hand down to hand down his final report to the South Australian Government in May next year. But in a speech in September 2005, ten years ago, Bob Hawke the former Prime Minister called on the ALP to abandon its 3 mines policy on uranium and to promote Australia as a repository for nuclear waste. Bob Hawke the former Prime Minister said Australia has the geologically safest places in the world for the storage of waste. He said; what Australia should do in my judgement as an act of economic sanity and environmental responsibility is say “we will take the world’s nuclear waste. This will give the government a huge source of income”. So what’s the delay here?
EDWARDS: Well it’s just political commitment. Its political endeavour and I was heartened to hear the Prime Minister’s words several weeks ago when he talked about this. I’m also very heartened to hear of eminent people like Bob Hawke who have had a contribution on nuclear for some time. I don’t know what the problem has been but certainly there’s been very few people coming and being able to take a layer of paint off my proposal.
JONES: That’s correct.
EDWARDS: I say “everybody have a look at it”. There’s billions and billions of dollars of revenue. This will generate thousands upon thousands of high paying jobs. And it won’t just be for South Australia, it will flow on through low or no cost power. The beauty of my model is that power is just the end product of the revenue, which all the revenue is front loaded by virtue of the fact that other countries around the world who are either treaty constrained or have old technology and no endeavour to go to new technology.
JONES: Or are too small..
EDWARDS: …Or are too small, and we stopped counting after we got to $100bn worth of revenue and we stopped talking to countries after they said they’d be involved.
JONES: But there are countries, and you said this in your speech, that are prepared to provide the capital cost for the infrastructure as well.
EDWARDS: Well that’s the thing Alan, people keep saying to me “Oh it’s too costly!” But I say “Oh what, no cost?” I mean these countries that I’ve been in discussion with…
JONES: You’ve spoken to a potential client who’s said that to you, haven’t you? A client country.
EDWARDS: Yes I’ve spoken to three of them and I said “Okay well this project’s good enough I don’t need any more convincing, let’s get a run on!” And those countries I’ve introduced at the highest levels of the ministry here in this building so that people in this building, around the cabinet table, have the confidence to know that…
JONES: This is potentially a massive breakthrough. Just amplify for me here, back in June 2012 the Senator proved the Muckaty Station site in the Northern Territory as a nuclear waste dump. The Greens amended the Senate approval such that Muckaty site couldn’t accept waste from abroad. Now at the time the Federal Member for Wentworth, Andrew Thompson, son of the great Australian golfer, Peter Thompson who was the replaced by Peter King and then of course that’s now Malcolm Turnbull’s seat. He had a tremendous understanding of the Asian economy and Asian people and he said there were vast deserts in western Australia for the Fukushima waste; he was just talking about Japan. Now what’s happened to that proposal?
EDWARDS: Well that’s a very, very live issue and Minister Frydenberg will have to deal with that in the short term. Australia is treaty bound to take back its medical waste and that’s what Muckaty was, the Muckaty proposal. Ian McFarlane was dealing with it prior to Minister Frydenberg and Australia has to take back its medical waste and there’s just no issue around that. But that’s what I say; if we’re going to have the emotive argument about the nuclear waste and let’s embrace all the revenue sources from nuclear. Let’s not tinker around the edges, let’s have a full blown conversation while there seems to be some political will to do so.
JONES: The elephant in the room, which you have addressed and I want us to address rather quickly right now, this argument about safety. The Greens say “Oh you know, the basis of safety”. You made a very valid point; there have only been three significant commercial reactor incidents in the history of civil nuclear power and as you said 15,000 cumulative years of operations in 33 countries across 6 decades and only one incident in which anyone was killed.
EDWARDS: Correct and even Fukushima; zero deaths. You ask people in the street; “Well how many people died as a result of the Fukushima issue?” and they don’t know, but when you tell them zero they’re very surprised. It’s just a fallacy, I mean 77 people died in Chernobyl as a result of radiation because they drank milk which they ingested and the radiation..
JONES: But they had no, there was no rudimentary containment at Chernobyl at all..
EDWARDS: Russia will never ever be a design model for western countries and never has been. I mean that was shoddily built and you cannot change that. It will never, ever be a model and the International Atomic Energy Agency was set up by the United Nations in 1957. This will never happen again.
JONES: The science is sound, there is safe and reliable technology and who’s going to manage the politics?
EDWARDS: Well that’s a big opportunity for Jay Weatherill in South Australia..
JONES: And Josh Frydenberg.
EDWARDS: And Josh Frydenberg.
JONES: We’ll talk to him Sean, and we’ll keep talking to you and send me anything you’ve got. Well done Senator Sean Edwards. Well there we are: open and shut case.